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Subject: Gone but not forgotten - a review rss

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Simon Nicholls
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Bakewell
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Imperial Governor

In 1978 I was given a gift of a game by my friend Daniel when I moved to Scotland from London. It turned out to be one of my favourites of all time – it was called Imperial Governor. It came with a second game called Stategos which was a slightly more detailed version of the same game but designed for two players.

Imperial Governor is set in the period around 300BC – 0AD and is a game of diplomacy and conquest in the Mediterranean basin. Each player takes control of one of the empires of the time – Carthage, Egypt, Parthia, Pontus, Macedonia and Rome – and seeks to make them number one. There are no defined victory conditions (although if any one player conquered every province then that would do it) and indeed no defined finish point which may sound less than satisfactory but in fact means you can decide these between the players at the start of the game. The game is designed to be simple to play and the mechanics can be understood very quickly – winning the game will mostly be down to the player’s diplomatic ability and a little luck.

Components

The game map is a representation of the Mediterranean basin from the Atlantic to Mesopotamia with land areas divided into vaguely historical provinces of similar but varied size. The provinces (and their names) are most closely based on Roman delineation. Both land and sea are overlaid with hexes for regulation of movement. The key charts needed to play the game are on the map.

The counters are standard ½” size efforts depicting land, naval and leader counters in the six country colours. There is plenty of each type for any game we ever played and because there is little information on each, they are easy to read. By today’s standards they are thinner than the thinnest thing you ever did see, but frankly, they’re for a board game not for building a house.

The other main components are the pack of Fates cards (100) and the Gift cards (30). The first provide the main injection of luck – just as their name suggests – and the second are used in diplomacy. They’re nothing fancy and nowadays most gamers would turn their noses up at them, but they serve their purpose very well.

The rules booklet is an A5 affair only 24 pages long and half of that space is given up to the other game which you got in the box (Strategos) so “compact and bijoux” would be one way of describing the rules. As I said above, the rules are straightforward and therefore explaining them is a fairly straightforward process.

All in all, the game looks reasonably pretty – and probably a lot more colourful than much going around at the time. The back end of the ‘70s was a pretty drab time and space so this game wasn’t bad.

Gameplay

Each player takes control of one of the six countries and is given their four leader counters – a King and three generals – and a number of legions or fleets. At the start you control only your home province and the early part of the game require conquest of neighbouring provinces in order to expand your empire before the inevitable clash of civilizations.

Each player turn comprises the following phases – draw a Fates card, treasury phase, diplomacy, movement and finally combat. The first three of these can certainly be played simultaneously by all players which keeps the game moving on at a reasonable clip.

The Fates cards are a mix of bad news (storms that sink ships at sea, revolts that destroy all forces in a province), good news (one off cash payments and ongoing credits), Rome-only events and a variety of miscellaneous events of varying effect. If you are lucky and collect a fair number of credit cards which give you between 3 and 5 talents per turn you can run a much larger military than you should actually be able to afford. Of course when one of the “credit over” cards turns up, you might well have a problem.

The Rome Only cards, which as the name suggests only take effect if the Roman player draws them, are designed to counterbalance the in-built advantage that Rome has compared to the other countries. This advantage is not only the fact that Rome has a home province income of 10 compared to 5 for all the other countries (and thus starts with and can maintain more military forces on the board) but also that it has easier access to a large number of provinces for conquest.

Each province on the map has value which equates to the income in Talents (the game currency) that the player receives in each turn for controlling it. This income is collected in the treasury phase and then spent on maintaining your legions and fleets (1 Talent per point), raising new units (2 per point) or disbanding units (very occasionally useful if you come to the end of a war and find you have too many units – yeah right) at 3 Talents per point. In the absence of any physical counters representing the Talents, this is a pen and paper operation – or at least it was 30 years ago – and you can save Talents between turns but you can’t go into debt. If you run out of money, your forces desert (always tricky).

You can also gain (or lose) Talents when leaders are captured in combat and subsequently ransomed and the giving of gifts in the diplomacy phase will deplete or fill your coffers.

The diplomacy phase is when you strike bargains, make pacts or demands and generally mess with your opponents. The rules suggest the giving of gifts in order to secure an audience with the opposing player – we weren’t very keen on this when we were playing this as poverty stricken students – but such negotiation certainly is an important part of the game. As is the later back stabbing.

In the movement phase, you move your land and naval units. The key here is that units can only move if stacked with a leader counter. Fleets can move up to 5 sea hexes, and armies can move up to 5 clear land hexes – they have to stop when they enter a non-clear hex (generally mountains or other inhospitable terrain). There is no stacking limit and units under a leader are not allowed to be inspected unless they or your units enter the same hex to engage in combat.

Generally the purpose of movement in the early part of the game is to capture unoccupied cities in neutral provinces. This is because once you have occupied each of the three cities in a province, you have conquered it and you can claim its income in the next treasury phase. You have to end a turn on a city for it to be considered captured so a single army will take three turns to conquer a province. To capture a city requires an army (or fleet for coastal cities) at least equal to the city size – either 3 or 5 (or 10 for Rome). In such cases no actual combat takes place.

Combat between opposing armies or fleets is a simple odds calculation and a roll on a d6. If there is result (i.e. not a No Effect) the winner may lose a percentage of their armies or none. The loser loses everyone and any general present is captured for later ransom. On a NE result, the forces remain in place and reinforcements could be brought in or one side could retreat.

Winning and Losing

The game swings back and forth and it is very difficult to gain the upper hand for long periods as once you get ahead, other countries will generally team up against you. Or the Fates conspire against you, of course. Additionally, unlike any other game I have played, even if you have lost all your provinces and all you leaders have been captured, you ain’t finished. You can still claim an income of 5 (from your king’s personally wealth) and are given 1 naval point to allow you to allow you float off and start again somewhere remote – usually good old Caledonia.

In essence, a game without complication or even a definite end, but teh simple rules make it relatively easy to get non-wargamers to play and it can last as long as you want (3 hours / 1 day / a weekend / the rest of your life).

I imagine there is no chance of a reprint of the game and I have no idea if the designer ever produced any other games so I suppose this review is for historical interest only. Ah well, it holds a special place in my memory at least.

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Adam Cirone
United States
Mansfield
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Very nice review, and this sounds like an interesting game. I kinda like the idea of no victory conditions. How many times did my friends and I play Risk and just end at some random point anyway?

Some aspects of the description remind me of Conquest of the Empire.
 
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Loris Pagnotta
Italy
Brusaporto
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Hi Simon
I also keep a pleasant memory of this game, and after more than thirty years, I have taken away from the pile of old games and I intend to propose it to my friends.
Perhaps it will use the counters of "Pax Romana" to give it a more contemporary look.
Regards Loris
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Simon Nicholls
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Hello Loris
an interesting comment - I have looked at Pax Romana as a possible purchase as it looks like it has the same scope as IG (although more compicated gameplay). Do you recommend Pax Romana as a game? If so I may add it to my P500 list at GMT.
Simon
 
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Kim Meints
United States
Waterloo
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One of my favorite ancients games back in the day. Still enjoy it today
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Loris Pagnotta
Italy
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Hi Simon
Pax Romana is not a bad game, but some things do not convince me:
1) Allows you to create huge armies;
2) The table of combat too favors the player who has more troops.
3) There is no attrition for very large armies;
4) The maintenance of infantry troops will only pay if you exceed the maximum allowed by the stability of the country (about 30 strenght points).
However, it is a nice game, not very historical but nice.
Loris
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Laurence Williams
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As I recall it was always paying off the barbarians that did for me every time, a top game of its time and how I dipped my toe into the quagmire of lost hours through gaming, thanks for the memories.
 
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Carl Marl
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In my group's experience, Rome's advantages, as stated above were outweighed by its central location, which meant Rome fighting on too many fronts.
 
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